In October of 1989, an unknown man contacted 10-year-old Amy Renee Mihaljevic by telephone and arranged to meet her at a shopping center under the pretext of purchasing a gift for her mother.
Four months later, a jogger found her body in a field not far from her Ohio home.
She had been stabbed to death. The FBI maintains a list of 25 possible suspects connected to her tragic death, but have yet to convict anyone for the murder.
While Mihaljevic’s case made headlines, James Renner became mesmerized by the young girl’s photo and a fascination began to form into the case.
Born in the same year as Mihaljevic, Renner was struck with awe at the horrific reality of the situation. Renner sat down with BTR to speak about how the case has spurred him into a life’s work of investigating such murders.
“[Amy Mihaljevic’s murder] became the moment in my life when I realized that this can be a dangerous world; that always stuck with me,” confesses Renner. “I think every generation has a case like that. As we grow older and we become adults, …We warn our kids about the ones [cases] that made us a little bit more fearful.”
After becoming a reporter and journalist, Renner began closely examining Mihaljevic’s kidnapping and murder. All of the information gathered over the years have culminated in his book, “Amy: My Search for Her Killer.”
He also started the blog, “Finding Amy’s Killer,” where he continues to update on the latest uncovered evidence.
Around the time of his book release, newspapers began feeling the pressure in the shifting technological world brought on by the Internet. Though many journalists were fearful of using digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to generate sources, Renner understood its potential to assist him in his search for Mihaljevic’s killer.
“Back when there wasn’t an Internet, when there were just people in a newsroom, the reporters would gather in the Writer’s Den—that was a place where reporters could go and talk to each other about these cases,” explains Renner. “The Writer’s Den has moved from the physical location of the newsroom to the Internet.”
Early on, Renner saw a parallel between the use of online blogs and the traditional newsroom process. As time went on, Renner continued utilizing the web as a vital tool in his investigation.
Another blog was then formed for Maura Murray, a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who disappeared in February of 2004. Both blogs proved helpful in unraveling details about the girls by creating an open-source style of reporting.
Renner presents all documents and first-hand account on his sites. This transparency allows Renner to display what he knows, but also learn what still needs to be uncovered.
He calls upon the public for help, asking them if they can offer additional details or make sense of the information he has provided. This interactive-journalism has led Renner to connect with people who may not have otherwise been available.
“It [the Internet] allows you to disseminate information much faster than we have been able to do in the past,” points out Renner. “By putting that information out on the web and on a blog, people with clues will find it and share their information with you…eventually you become a lightning rod for information even more so than the police.”
Since the launch of the Maura Murray blog in 2011, Renner has become privy to new details regarding her disappearance. Without Renner’s attempt to piece together a story via open-source technology, the case would remain at a stand still.
For instance, before Renner delved into the case, Maura was portrayed as a perfect, all-American girl. However, Renner didn’t feel the depiction made sense with her case.
“Whatever drove her into the mountains that day began in the hours and days leading up to her disappearance,” reveals Renner. “We didn’t know anything about that at the time, but thanks to the blog…We see motive for her to runaway.”
The question still remains as to where she is, but according to Renner, the mystery is getting closer to being solved each day.
Despite the benefits to this interactive method, utilizing the Internet also has its drawbacks. As Renner has witnessed, some people purposefully try and lead the case astray.
Renner emphasizes the need to further verify information collected from open forum sites such as Reddit with credible media sources.
“We are beginning to understand that even if we read it on the blog, it doesn’t mean its true,” admits Renner. “We can look to online credible sources and know that because they’re putting their stamp on it, we can trust them because they did the leg work.”
Twenty-six years have passed since Amy Mihaljevic’s murder and 12 years have passed since Maura Murray’s disappearance. Though much time has gone by, Renner continues to post his findings on their respective blogs in hopes of one day uncovering the truth.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr user Tony Webster.